The teamwork approach to continuing education is becoming the "gold standard" in dentistry. Technicians and dentists alike are reaping the rewards that come with learning and even teaching side-by-side: enhanced communication, shared skills and objectives, and an overall stronger working relationship. This month, we look at two dynamic duos—one that exemplifies learning together and the other teaching together—and how their teamwork produces beautiful results both in the classroom and out.
Technician-Dentist Educators Practice What They Teach
Twenty years ago, lab owner and educator Matt Roberts was giving courses for both technicians and dentists but rarely—if ever—did they take a course together. "Someone would come to a course, excited to go back to his lab or dental practice with a whole new skill set. But unless both the technician and dentist were on the same page, nothing was going to change much," says Roberts, Owner of CMR Dental Lab, Idaho Falls, ID, and Founder of Team Aesthetic Seminars.
Fast forward to today: Roberts and long-time client Dr. Frankie Shull are well-regarded proponents of the teamwork approach to education and often teach together. In fact, they are part of a group of technicians and dentists that teach The Pankey Institute's Esthetic Continuum, a four-day intensive course that teaches technician and dentist teams to work cooperatively on case planning, occlusion and esthetics.
They also join forces to lecture to laboratory and dentist groups around the country on a variety of topics related to comprehensive esthetic dentistry. "We probably both love talking about communication the most," says Dr. Shull, who practices in Lexington, SC. "You can be the best dentist or the best technician, but if you're not truly working together, you're not going to get optimum results."
But Roberts and Dr. Shull do more than just talk about communication. Since they're both technology buffs, they frequently exchange photographs over the internet and use iChat videoconferencing to discuss cases, and they share these communications in their case study presentations. Their high-tech approach allows them to virtually work side by side even though they're 2,000 miles apart.
"My microscope has video capability so if I have a question on a case, Dr. Shull and I can jump on iChat and he can basically look through the microscope with me. I can show him, for example, the contours on my waxup as I'm working on it," says Roberts. Likewise, if Dr. Shull wants Roberts' input on a prep, he can share and discuss photos with him via iChat while the patient's still in the chair. Sometimes, the patient even gets "face" time with Roberts (at least on a computer monitor) to discuss his expectations for the case.
While this level of communication has played a huge role in taking their working relationship to new heights, Roberts says teaching together has also positively impacted their partnership. "We're always excited about new and challenging cases not only because we enjoy working on them, but because we enjoy sharing them in our presentations," says Roberts. "We strive for uncompromised excellence—not only for our presentations but for our patients."
In-House Technician-Dentist Team Pursues Excellence Together
What started with a simple invitation has led to almost 15 years of continuous education and collaboration for Dr. Fred Arnold and Michael Morris, the in-house technician at his Lexington, KY practice.
In 1997, Dr. Arnold was planning to attend his first American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) meeting and invited Morris to join him. "We had worked together for a couple of years and were already doing smile design and rehabilitation cases," says Morris. "But we were both eager to raise our skill level and knowledge base to an entirely new level." And that's exactly what they did, starting with joining efforts to achieve AACD accreditation. In fact, Morris and Dr. Arnold are now the only in-house technician/dentist team in which both have achieved AACD accreditation and fellowship.
To prepare for the accreditation process, the pair worked on advancing their skills in smile design, esthetic diagnosis and case planning. In addition to taking courses independently, they attended Esthetic Continuums together at Louisiana State University Dental School and also helped found a local study club with other dentists and technicians pursuing accreditation. The study club gave members an opportunity to discuss cases and offer each other constructive feedback.
They also collaborated on the extensive documentation and photography for the five cases they were each required to submit to the AACD, as well as preparing for oral presentations. "Going through the process together was the pinnacle of synergistic teamwork," says Dr. Arnold. "Mike and I make a great team because we talk the same language, have the same expectations, understand each other's needs and limitations and, most of all, have respect and appreciation for each other."
The two achieved accreditation in 2003 and, three years later, earned fellowship, which requires the submission of 50 cases (although with less documentation). Today, Morris and Dr. Arnold are both AACD examiners, still attend every meeting together and have even twice been on the program speaking as a team.
Their like-minded philosophy has not only enhanced their working relationship, but also the results they achieve for their patients. They often work together chairside, giving Morris ample opportunity to meet patients and discuss their expectations. They continue to document their cases with photos and study them to reach restorative decisions. "Our joint educational experiences have really tied us together and we have a shared passion for excellence," says Morris. "As materials and techniques change, we'll continue to learn and progress together."